A Green Signal for Station Hill

Last week, final approval was given to minor amendments to the Friar’s Walk residential element of the Station Hill proposals. This follows another consent a couple of months ago for an office building next to Thames Tower and a link bridge between the two. I approached the developer’s PR company and managed to get a statement confirming that, finally, construction work is imminent.

The statement reads as follows:

“We are pleased that these amendments to Phase 1 of Station Hill have been approved by Reading Borough Council. These revisions, formulated in consultation with the Council, will facilitate the delivery of this essential regeneration in a challenging market environment.

“Phase 1 (the South site Residential) of Station Hill should commence as early as April 2021, and the Phase 2 (the North site, office building ONE Station Hill, the first 275,000 sq ft best class office building, public realm and link bridge to phase 1), should also start with the demolition of the Garrard Street car park in April 2021.  However, both of these timescales are fully dependent on the continued support of Reading Borough Council to issue and conclude within a timely manner, the associated S106 planning agreement and formal permission notices. Until issued the scheme is unable to move forward.’

With the support of Reading Borough Council, the initial buildings within phase 1 & 2, as well as the North and South site links between the station and town centre, the pocket park and public square could be completed by 2024.

I think we can be reasonably confident this means they’re ready to go. No reference to subject to securing funding from investors, or subject to finding a tenant for the offices, or subject to us selling on the site to someone who might actually build something etc… we’ve had all of those before. Obviously there is the very most polite of nudges to the council to complete the paperwork from their end, but it looks to me like 16 years after Sir John Madejski first bought the land to kickstart a regeneration, and multiple owners later, work could begin next month.

Were Sir John still to be involved, I’m sure there’d be a more triumphant and celebratory tone. Developers seem to be incredibly cautious with publicity, and unforthcoming with the story behind their work, or the people in charge. This creates a void that is easily filled, particularly on social media, with presumptions of outsiders exploiting the system with no interest in the town or what they’re leaving behind. Yet strangely, a little search on LinkedIn and it’s a different picture altogether. The site is in the ownership of a joint venture between MGT and Lincoln Property Company. Two of MGT’s three directors, and the UK director of Lincoln attended Reading University. Amongst hundreds of comments on their planning permission late last year, one comments “We are proud to have such a long association with Reading and are deeply committed to its future”, whilst remarking to another colleague “Got to love Reading!” Dozens of organisations, many displaying local connections and knowledge, celebrate their contributions and contributors, and whilst LinkedIn is always something of a love-in, the faces and the emotions expressed portray an entirely more positive intent than the local social media commentary. I think they should take a little more risk with their PR – one drunken story from the After Dark and they’d get all the public support they’d ever need!

The approved development has been covered in depth previously. Friars Walk will contain 599 apartments, ground floor retail and a link bridge over to the main Station Hill site. The homes will be rental properties, with a small onsite affordable housing allocation together with a financial contribution for further offsite accommodation. Significant environmental mitigations are included, including planting and bird boxes for enough species to run a David Attenborough documentary.

Over the bridge and adjacent to the station and Thames Tower will be an office building of sixteen storeys and a major landscaped public space to connect the different elements of the scheme. Future phases will progress down Station Hill and should ultimately feature a landmark building that will eclipse the 25-storey tower than Maidenhead approved this week. Who’d have thought the Royal Borough would be vying with Woking to make a play for the title of the Dubai of the Thames Valley? Station Hill may not be the tallest new scheme in the area (yet), but it is well designed, viable, and crucially, at last, seemingly about to happen. After all this time, and in the current economic situation, that is something to celebrate. #GottaLoveReading

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A Green Signal for Station Hill

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